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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Being Your Best Self in a Relationship

By Dr. Debra Holland

In my psychotherapy practice, I often see couples in unhappy long-term relationships who can’t understand how they’ve lost some of the love and most of the happiness they’d experienced when dating. Much marital dissatisfaction happens because, after marriage, people often stop behaving in the way they did during courtship.

In the beginning of a relationship couples present their best behavior, or what I’ll call the best self. This is not a false self (unless lying is involved) because it is a part of the individual.

When you present your best self, you are more considerate, try harder to please your partner, take care to keep yourself in shape and attractive, do special or romantic gestures to express feelings, tend to be more interested in the activities which the other person likes in order to spend time with him or her, and are more eager to be sexually intimate.

By being your best self during courtship, you set up expectations in your partner. She or he believes that this is who you really are, and that this behavior will continue. He or she falls in love with your best self, and you fall in love with your partner’s best self. If you decide to marry, you two assume that you will both remain your best selves for as long as you both shall live.

After a couple has been together a long while, they often don’t have the motivation, time, or energy to continue in their best selves. They allow themselves to relax into their easy selves. They stop making as much of an effort to please each other. Romantic gestures and dates get lost in a busy schedule. Work involvement increases.

They then become disappointed with each other or feel let down. They might argue and feel upset, or they might just let it pass. But they, too, start doing less of their previous courtship behaviors. When this happens, one or both can experience feelings of resignation, “This is what’s supposed to happen in long relationships,” or a hurt response, such as, “You’re not the man/woman you used to be. You don’t love me.”

Much of this problem can be avoided or improved by each of you becoming aware of, and taking responsibility for, your part in setting up your partner’s expectations.

1. If you are in the courtship phase of a relationship, take a good look at what you are promising. Don’t set up expectations you aren’t willing or able to keep.

2. If you are in a long-term relationship, think back to what you inadvertently promised. Resolve to reintroduce those courtship gestures into your relationship.

3. Realize the important difference between willing and wanting. The truth is, that for a man to be willing to do something he doesn’t want to do just because he wants to please you is actually a loving act. And vice versa. How’s that for romance? At times like this, your partner deserves more points, not less.

4. Check your attitude. If you don’t really want to join your partner, but are willling, it’s fine to communicate your feelings, although not in a complaining or long-suffering tone. Say, “I’m not that interested, but if it will make you happy, I’ll be glad to do it.”

5. Check your level of appreciation. If your partner has stopped being his or her best self, perhaps one of the main reasons is because you’ve stopped expressing your appreciation of his or her efforts. You can never express too much appreciation in a relationship.

6. Remain optimistic. Don’t give up your efforts if your partner doesn’t appear to respond positively at first, or says something derogative such as, “I thought you hated when I do _____.” Remember they have months, or maybe years, of negative feelings about their unmet expectations.

By persevering in your goal of being your best self, not only will you increase your own self-esteem, over time you will be rewarded with a happier, more loving relationship.

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At 9:32 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

Dr. Deb,
Number Four really hit home with me. Sometimes you do things you aren't all that enthused about, like visiting a Civil War battle sight in 100 degree weather. :)

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Great insights and advice, Dr. Debra! As always...

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

A lot of great points, Dr. Deb! I especially like 4, 5, and 6. Attitude, appreciation, and especially not giving up! If at first they don't respond, try, try again. And I don't think you can have expectations...just be your best self for YOU and then you won't be disappointed if the other person isn't his/her best self right away...

Sorry, Dr. Deb. I sound like Dr. Theresa, don't I?! :)

Great post!

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Dr. Deb :-)! I love that phrase "courtship gestures." It's definitely something to keep in mind :-).


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